Friday, March 1, 2013

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: 20-11

So we come to the end of the week - and the final two posts ranking the Best Picture Oscar winners. All 20 of the films highlighted today are masterpieces. Even if something else - either nominated or not - was better (at least in my mind), I'm not going to complain about any of these winning. At some point in 2013, I hope to post a similar list for Best Actor winners - and I will especially if I can track down George Arliss' Oscar winning performance in Disraeli (1929), the only Actor winner I have not seen (aside from The Way of All Flesh, which Emil Jannings won for, alongside his performance in The Last Command in the first year of the Oscars - the only year you could win for more than one performance - and that will never happen since The Way of All Flesh is sadly one of the many lost silent films). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this countdown, even if you completely disagree with my rankings.
20. Platoon (1986)
What Should Have Won: Platoon was the right choice out of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Blue Velvet was clearly the best, most talked about film of the year.
Review: Oliver Stone’s grunt’s eye view of the Vietnam War was somehow the Vietnam movie that should have been made first. Not as epic as The Deer Hunter, or as mesmerizing as Apocalypse Now, Platoon beats them both in terms of realism, and what it was actually like to be the ground. Stone plays this one much straighter then his later efforts, but that’s the right choice here. A truly great film.

19. The Deer Hunter (1978)
What Should Have Won: The Deer Hunter, which many have forgotten about, is still my favorite of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven is one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Review: The Deer Hunter was one of the first Hollywood films to directly address the war in Vietnam, and while its view of the war is probably mostly fantasy, the emotions the movie stirs are raw and real. Robert DeNiro is excellent in the lead role as a man who went through hell in Vietnam, and tries to rescue his friends who have been through even worse. It is an emotionally gripping film, that doesn’t feel nearly as long as it’s three hour running time, and a great choice for the Oscar that year.

18. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
What Should Have Won: For the first time in their history, the Academy got this one right.
What Was Snubbed: Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel was an early sound classic – in either language.
Review: Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the best, most powerful war movies ever made. Daring, for an American film, it looked at the lives of German soldiers in the trenches of WWI, and discovered that war was pointless and wasteful. Despite the fact that it was been copied so many times since, the original still holds a raw power. And Lew Ayres was great in the lead role.

17. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
What Should Have Won: Out of the nominees, David Lean’s war movie was the best.
What Was Snubbed: Stanley Kubrick made an even better war movie that year in Paths of Glory and Sweet Smell of Success is also a masterwork. Better than both was Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd.
Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai is a thrilling spectacle of a movie, with multiple plotlines that weave together effortlessly until the thrilling climax. Alec Guiness is wonderful as the stuffed shirt British officer, but William Holden is just as good as the more free wheeling American. But the real star of the movie is director David Lean. No one has ever done epics as well as he did, and The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the best.

16. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
What Should Have Won: Out of the nominees, they picked the best one.
What Was Snubbed: Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is one of his very best, and John Ford’s My Darling Clementine is also a masterwork as well as Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep.
Review: This was a timely film at the time – about three returning veterans from WWII struggling to fit back in with the rest of society, and it still remains perhaps the best movie ever about returning from war. It is long for a drama – nearly three hours – but the time passes quickly, because the characters are so well developed, and so clearly presented that we become involved in their plight. It’s the rare message movie whose message never gets old.

15. All About Eve (1950)
What Should Have Won: It’s hard to argue when the Academy gives the Oscar to a genuine masterpiece, but Sunset Boulevard is even better.
What Was Snubbed: Perhaps even better than either of them though is The Third Man, which managed a director nomination, but nothing for picture.
Review: All About Eve is probably the best of all the backstage dramas. Bette Davis as the aging star, Anne Baxter as the young up and comer who stabs her in the back, George Sanders as the slimy agent, not to mention Thelma Ritter and Celeste Holm. Every line is a treasure. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s best film, and a wonderful film, so I cannot complain, even if it beat Sunset Blvd., the best movie about Hollywood ever made.

14. The Apartment (1960)
What Should Have Won: The Apartment was an uncommonly daring choice – not just a comedy, a black comedy!
What Was Snubbed: No nomination for Hitchcock’s Psycho or Powell’s Peeping Tom – two classics.
Review: By choosing the Apartment, the Academy was going against four straight years where they picked big, flashy color movies, by instead picking a low key black and white comedy. This is a very daring film for 1960, dealing with more current sexual morays then most films of the day. But it is also a surprisingly funny comedy, with a spoonful of sugar that made all the bitterness go down easily. Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine are perfectly matched in one of Billy Wilder’s best films.

13. Amadeus (1984)
What Should Have Won: Amadeus was the best of the bunch, and the best of the year.
What Was Snubbed: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas and Robert Altman’s Secret Honor were never going to get in, no matter how good, but they should have had the guts to nominate Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap.
Review: Perhaps the best winner of the 1980s, Amadeus is one of those movies that never fails to draw me into its web. F. Murray Abraham delivers one of the best performances of the decade as Saleri, a bitter composer who cannot stand the fact that Mozart (Tom Hulce, also wonderful), an immature drunk is so much better than he is. While it is probably more fiction than fact, it makes for a magnificent movie. One of the few costume dramas I truly, deeply love.

12. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
What Should Have Won: Oliver Stone’s JFK was the year’s best film easily, no matter how much I love The Silence of the Lambs.
What Was Snubbed: How they could not nominate John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood is beyond me.
Review: Every year, we still get at least 10 imitators of this film, and none have ever come close to this one (okay, David Fincher’s Seven does). Hannibal Lector is still one of the best villains in cinema history, no matter how much they try to ruin him in sequels and prequels. And Clarice Starling is still the best female heroine in this type of movie. The direction is great, the acting great, the writing great. All in all a pretty much perfect movie.

11. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
What Should Have Won: Lawrence is fairly undeniable.
What Was Snubbed: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, Ride the High Country, Lolita and a few others in a very strong year.
Review: David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia could be the best of all the big studio “epics”. What makes it so fascinating, is that it isn’t a love story or a war movie, there is little action, and a lot of talk, and it goes on for nearly four hours, and yet the movie never drags. It is an entrancing film from beginning to end, all hinging on Peter O’Toole’s remarkable performance. No one would even dream of making a film like this today, and that’s why it remains so vital and alive, and pretty much unequalled.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered this blog and really enjoyed this post. I forgot All About Eve lost to Sunset Blvd, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. Man, that's tough.